Writer: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Director and Adaptor: Alexander Wright
A teal velvet curtain. The portal to another time. Guests dressed to the nines step straight from the pavement in Mayfair to 20s West Egg. J Gatsby is throwing another party and, this time, we’re all invited, old sport.
The first 20 minutes are about settling in. But that’s how a real party works right? Guests scan the room for familiar faces. Old Fashioneds are stirred. Outfits admired. And sequined dresses throw light around the room. The elusiveness keeps the guests allured. What part are we to play in this spectacle? Then the cast streak onto the stage and perform a brilliantly choreographed Charleston. The pages of the novel start turning.
Pacing is a hurdle when translating any novel for the stage, but particularly so for immersive theatre. Casey Jay Andrews’s set design encourages fluidity and speed. Small groups are lured into immaculately detailed side rooms – Daisy’s dressing room, Gatsby’s bedroom and Myrtle’s living room – so the action never feels static. Noise from the main stage seeps through the walls of each room, which is genius, having a significant effect on the atmosphere in your intimate group.
The lead up to the interval drags, with the whispers of guests hankering for the bar to reopen, distracting from the performance. However, the second half makes up for this as the drama intensifies. Props and staging are masterfully integrated into the action and guests humorously assist with stage set up. Alexander Wright’s direction of the bloody showdown is sensational. A moment of calm song, in stark contrast to the rest of the high-octane action, is poignant in effect.
The cast exude energy and talent. Audience interaction is masterfully handled. Teaching guests how to Charleston early on, loosens us up and gives us the confidence to join in. Aimee Barrett playing Lucille, a host, is engaging, charming and, it seems, charged with limitless energy. The actors flit through the room offering idle chitchat or provoking asides. It becomes obvious they are not using guests as a blank screen to play out their rehearsals on. They remember individuals, return to them, and pick up conversations where they left off. A moment in the dressing room proves their ability: Jessica Hern, playing Jordan, and Lucinda Turner, playing Daisy have a parley with a drunk, gobby guest, seemingly intent on breaking their cool. He does not succeed. The pair unflinchingly carry the action forward and expel the tension from the room.
Myrtle (Aminita Francis) and George (Steve McCourt) are styled with appropriate dullness against the glitzy backdrop by Heledd Rees. Yet both Francis and McCourt’s performances are dazzling. Their love story carries more intrigue than Gatsby and Daisy’s. Perhaps not the desired effect, but the hopelessness of their situation is wrenching, and more believable. It infuses not only their scenes but also every conversation they have with guests. The raw emotion and complex rendering of humanity they bring is integral to the production’s success. Not that we don’t all love a kitschy party, but it would not entirely satisfy the Fitzgerald loyalists.
The evening is a rip-roaring adventure. A unique experience leaving you in awe of the cast’s talent and the vitalising power of the sequin.